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The Social and Emotional Health of Gifted Students

written by: Rose Kivi • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 3/2/2012

While the intellectual potential of a gifted student may be readily apparent, the social and emotional lives of gifted children can reveal some problems. Students can appear happy on the outside, when on the inside they are suffering in and out of the classroom.

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    It is incorrect to assume that all gifted children experience emotional problems. There are plenty of gifted children who develop successful friendships in school and who enjoy their education. While a gifted student faces some special challenges, they are not doomed to unhappiness. Teachers and parents can help gifted students face special challenges if they arise.

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    Social Issues and Identifying with Peers

    Gifted children often experience difficulty establishing relationships with their peers. More intellectually developed than children in their own age group, the gifted student attempts to play complex games that are too advanced for their peers. This frustrates the gifted student who wants to play at a level that stimulates their mind, but alienates their peers who do not understand the complex rules of the gifted child's games.

    Although the gifted child is functioning at an intellectual level of a child in an older age group, their mental development is not necessarily advanced, which presents difficulties in peer interaction with children in older age groups. The advanced intellectual development is often misinterpreted as advanced emotional development by peers. Gifted students who are highly developed intellectually, but who have normal emotional development find great difficulty fitting in with older children. Older children view the gifted child as immature.

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    Interventions for Underachieving Gifted Students

    Gifted students commonly internalize their feelings. Depression and withdrawal often result. A child, unable to express their feelings of inadequacy and loneliness, may cease to attempt to socialize with peers and ignore schoolwork. Teachers and parents should watch for signs of emotional withdrawal. When schoolwork suddenly gets sloppy or is not completed at all, there is a problem. The teacher is often the first person to notice the signs of emotional problems.

    Intervention for underachieving gifted students should be taken as soon as possible. Underachievement in the classroom is a warning sign of emotional despair. Sometimes, simply pulling the student aside for a private conversation to discuss the concerns is all that is needed. If the child feels comfortable opening up a line of communication with the teacher and is receptive to the teacher's advice, a counseling recommendation may not be needed. If open communication can't be established or is insufficient, the teacher should refer the student to work with a counselor.

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    Creative Teaching for Gifted Students

    Boredom in the classroom can quickly cause a gifted student to lose interest in classroom work. Stimulating the mind of a gifted student should be a priority for the teacher. Deviating from set lesson plans, is often the best solution when working with intellectually advanced students. Allow the student to create their own lesson plans or write their own coursework material. A student who craves intellectual stimulation will challenge themselves appropriately when creating their own lesson plans or writing their own material.

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    Realistic Expectations

    Parents, peers and teachers sometimes push gifted students too hard. It is easy to see the potential that a student has, but it is a fine line between a stimulating learning environment and a learning environment that is too high pressure.

    A student who almost always succeeds intellectually is often asked, "What happened?" or told "You should try harder next time. You are smarter than that," when they fail to succeed at a task. It is unfair to have expectations for a gifted student that are not realistic. Let the student know that it is okay if they get an answer wrong or need extra time to study and that they are not a failure if they can't accomplish a learning assignment.

    Unrealistic expectations encourage the student to have a perfectionist attitude where anything less than perfect is viewed as a failure. The child's self esteem should not be based solely on their intellectual abilities. Too much pressure and too high expectations may set the gifted child up for failure.